Program on the Middle East

Despite the clamor for America’s foreign policy to pivot toward Asia and away from the Middle East, events in the region over the past several years require sustained American attention. The region has become more complicated. The days of state power being held in a single hand, or iron fist depending on the locale, are fading. The internal political chaos which now consumes Middle Eastern capitals from Damascus to Sanaa will likely be with us for some time. The stakes remain high for the United States and therefore necessitate sustained engagement based on new thinking. The challenges at hand are many, including Iran’s unquenched nuclear ambitions, the rise of the greatest terrorist threat this world has seen in the form of IS, the ostensible collapse of the old state order in the Greater Middle East, and ever entrenched conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and among Syrians themselves that continues to claim the lives and the futures of generations.

Map of the Middle EastFPRI’s Middle East program is uniquely positioned to provide the kind of strategic thinking and thoughtful analysis required to heed this call. FPRI has been known for its focus on geopolitics since its founder Robert Strausz-Hupé popularized the term for Americans in the mid-20th century. This geopolitical outlook has served the Institute well for over a half century. Following in that tradition, the Program on the Middle East brings together both established and emerging scholars from the academic, military, and policy worlds in an effort to develop a new cadre of strategic policy thinkers, versed in the geography, history, culture, and politics of the region. This geopolitical outlook is particularly important when analyzing the Middle East. In fact, the term “Middle East” was coined in 1902 by one of America’s great devotees of geopolitics – U.S. Navy Captain, Alfred T. Mahan. For Captain Mahan in the early 20th century, the region’s importance was rooted in its geopolitics. As fleeting intellectual fads have come and gone in Western capitals, the geopolitical bedrock of geography, history, and culture continue to shape Middle Eastern politics. These factors do not transform with every street demonstration and even in these fast changing times, they continue to frame some of the most prudent analysis of the American interest in the region.

Accordingly, FPRI’s Program on the Middle East offers context, content, and policy recommendations based on a holistic view of American strategic interests in the region. Its analysis transcends headlines and catch phrases. Throughout its research, publications, and educational outreach, the program focuses on key themes such as authoritarianism and reform; the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings; radicalism and regional threats; sectarian divisions; and the Arab-Israeli conflict and peace efforts. FPRI’s Program on the Middle East is dedicated to ensuring that its vital and time-tested geopolitical approach continues to bear fruit. Therefore, the Program seeks to provide its particular brand of informed analysis on regional developments to policymakers, academics, journalists, educators, and others interested in the Middle East. It also seeks to build relationships with like-minded institutions and individuals from the region, in an effort to both enrich the Program’s perspectives and to provide a platform for indigenous analyses and critiques from within the Middle East itself.

The Program reaches policymakers, academics, teachers, professionals and informed citizens through a diverse array of projects, including: 

  • Frequent publications on critical developments and trends in the Middle East through the E-Notes article series, V-Notes video essays, the Footnotes bulletin for educators, E-Books on Middle East-related issues, and Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal of world affairs.
  • Middle East Media Monitor, a series of essays that examines issues of importance to the American foreign policy community by reviewing events from the perspective of the foreign language press coverage. The series complements other FPRI publications by shedding light on how those same topics and issues are being covered in the region.  Call For Papers!
  • Middle East Lecture Series, which brings renowned experts to FPRI forums in New York City, Philadelphia, and Princeton to speak to professionals and engaged citizens about important subjects that bear upon American foreign policy.
  • FPRI’s Policy Briefings in Washington D.C., a series of briefings and panels hosted by FPRI in Washington, D.C. that focuses on Middle Eastern issues critical to the American foreign policy community.
  • FPRI Radio, 15 - 45 minutes podcasts, featuring discussion by FPRI scholars and leading experts on current regional events in the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic domains.
  • History Institutes for Teachers, a yearly program which provides weekend-long seminars for teachers and junior college faculty around the country to enhance their knowledge about and ability to teach the Middle East by providing historical contexts to current events. 

Despite decades of achievements, FPRI acts like a start-up company born a day ago – developing new products and services, experimenting with new formats. Its Middle East program has been pioneering many of these new formats from putting out interactive infographics that illuminate complex developments to a creating a series of video essays, or V-Notes, aimed at kickstarting new conversations about American foreign policy toward the Arab world and beyond. The Program is ably directed by Tally Helfont.